Monday, July 27, 2015

Lake Tahoe and Grandpa George 1911-1981

Grandpa George Kelly, Nick Cimino & Uncle Jack Kelly on the beach at Lake Tahoe.

I have had the great good fortune to spend lots of time at Lake Tahoe over the years.  My grandparents, George and Elaine Kelly moved to South Lake Tahoe in the mid 1960s.  The first house I remember was on Nez Perce Drive.  Grandpa George was a Deputy Registrar and Inspector for the State Contractors Licensing Board before he retired. As I recall he found several of the houses that he owned through his travels as a state inspector.  He was especially fond of uncompleted projects that he could finish as he came from a family of carpenters and was a highly skilled carpenter and contractor himself.

The Cimino Family in the driveway at Gram Elaine and Grandpa George's house at South Lake Tahoe, February 1968. Left to right: Vicky, Nick, Jill, Vince, Faran and Dick Cimino.

Gram Elaine and Grandpa George were members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the South Lake Tahoe Yacht Club. They were also former owners of Valhalla before it was sold to the state. In 1989 during a visit to Gram Elaine and Grandpa George at Lake Tahoe, I had an opportunity to sit with Grandpa George and make a tape recorded oral history of his life. He told me many fascinating stories and he had a keen memory for details. This history of his life is based on that tape recording. 

George Kelly was born in Tacoma, WA on the 21st of July 1911. That was the year that Irving Berlin composed Alexander's Ragtime Band. William Howard Taft was President of the United States. Ty Cobb was the biggest name in baseball. It was the first year of the Indianapolis 500 and the first cross country airplane flight was made in a Burgess-Wright biplane from N.Y. to Pasadena, CA in the incredible time of 82 hours and 4 minutes.  A lot happened in George Kelly's 80 years of living. 

George Kelly in the sailor suit about 1918 with his brothers.

George was the youngest child of 10. His father was John Caesar Kelly, born in the Isle of Man and his mother was Annie Marie White born in Bedford, England. George's family moved to Selah, WA, the home of Tree Top apple juice. His dad was a building contractor who constructed big fruit warehouses and other large construction projects. His mother was a housewife who had a full time job caring for their large family. George attended grammar school in Selah for 8 years. He told me that he used to catch a ride on the apple trucks on the way home from school. 

George Kelly about 1929.

In 1925 the Kelly family moved to San Francisco. George used to take the streetcar from his home in the Parkside District to Lick High School in the Potrero district. He graduated from high school in 1929 on the eve of the great depression. He was able to find work during prohibition for Consumers Yeast Company, delivering yeast in a small panel truck. He would deliver about 300 pounds of yeast to a garage in the Marina District. He would meet a guy there who would then take George's panel truck and make George wait for him to come back. He had a pretty good idea that they were bootleggers. 

George held a variety of jobs during the depression years. He was an apprentice carpenter for about 6 months. Then he went to San Jose state college but he never graduated. He had to go to work. He worked at Sears Roebuck as a shipping clerk. After he was married to Elaine Kelly in 1937 he worked for Union Oil Company as a maintenance man and a tanker truck driver. During the war he was a fireman in Sacramento. 

My mother recounted a story to me in September 2001 about her memories of the announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The family was concerned that George would have to enter military service. Jill and Jack were sitting in the back of the car when the announcement came on the radio. The lived on Cavanaugh Way at the time. George and Elaine were talking about whether George would have to go. Jill's parents told her that George would not have to go to war because he was already in uniform as a fireman. Jill decided that she wanted a uniform too so she asked Santa Claus to bring her one. When she opened the package that she thought was her uniform she found a sweater. She was so disappointed that she stopped believing in Santa Claus!

George later went to work for the Contractor's State License Board as an inspector and retired from the Board in South Lake Tahoe as a deputy registrar. George was a home builder. He came by it honestly enough since his dad and his brothers were carpenters and contractors. He built several of his own homes in Sacramento and Lake Tahoe and he was always willing to help others build their homes. On October 24, 1937 he married Elaine Coffman Mayne in Reno. He had an instant family of two daughters, Joan age 6 and Jill, who was 2 years old at the time. Three years later Elaine and George had a son, Jack who was born on February 18, 1940. 

George and Elaine Kelly at their 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration in South Lake Tahoe.

In 1987 George and Elaine celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at South Lake Tahoe. His first love was Elaine and his second love was Lake Tahoe. He had a boat that was a symbol of these two loves. He named it the Elaine B. George and Elaine's first venture at the lake was Kelly's Rainbow Cabin's at King's Beach. They were living in Sacramento at the time when a big snow storm left a heavy load on the roof of the cabins. George was advised to shovel the snow off the roof, by one of his neighbors at King's Beach. He apparently went golfing instead and the roof caved in. 

Kelly's Rainbow Cabins at Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe, California.
The pen and ink drawing was done by Jim Goudge, a California artist who often stayed at the cabins.

His grandchildren have special memories of the times at Valhalla. Trips on the boat to Emerald Bay and swimming in the freezing waters of Lake Tahoe. He was president of the Lake Tahoe Country Club. His home was adorned with his many golf trophies that attested to his skill on the golf course. We held his memorial service in the club house at a golf course in Lake Tahoe which was particularly appropriate considering his love of golf. He was a husband, a father, a golfer, a boater and a dog lover but not necessarily in that order. One friend described him as having a dry sense of humor. He loved to tell jokes and would do most anything to get a laugh. He knew how to have a good time and his wife and daughters said he was an excellent dancer. 

He was loved by his friends and family and he is missed to this day. His niece gave him a plaque to hang on his wall in recognition of his love of golf. The Plaque reads: "When the Great Scorer puts His mark by your name, he will not ask whether you won or lost, but how you played the game". George Kelly, you played the game well!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Purchased Lives & Lost Friends- The Legacy of Slavery in New Orleans

The Historic New Orleans Collection recently hosted an exhibit entitled: Purchased Lives - New Orleans and the Domestic Slave Trade, 1808-1865.  This museum exhibit examined the lives of the human beings that were traded as property and considers New Orleans role as antebellum America's largest slave market.  We had the good fortune of visiting this exhibit twice last week before its conclusion on July 18.  To view a brief summary of the exhibit go to the website of the Historic New Orleans collection: Purchased Lives Exhibit

Slave Auctionca. 1831; ink and watercolor; The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1941.3
In the six decades before the Civil War, approximately one million enslaved people were forced to leave behind their homes and families and were sent to labor in the sugar cane and cotton fields of the Deep South.  They traveled by steamboats and sailing ships, wagons and railcars but most came on foot. When they arrived in New Orleans, the traders would advertise the sales of enslaved men and women in the local newspapers.  The newspapers were also regularly used to post rewards for the return of runaway slaves.  The exhibit presented many of these advertisements in a booklet which was a very thorough compilation of images and text of the exhibit.  The booklet is not currently available as a PDF but I have made a request with the Historic New Orleans Collection that the guide be published online.

One feature of the exhibit that has been placed online is the Lost Friends database.  The contents of the database are described here:

  • Two dollars in 1880 bought a yearlong subscription to the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a newspaper published in New Orleans by the Methodist Book Concern and distributed to nearly five hundred preachers, eight hundred post offices, and more than four thousand subscribers in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The "Lost Friends" column, which ran from the paper's 1877 inception well into the first decade of the twentieth century, featured messages from individuals searching for loved ones lost in slavery.
  • This searchable database provides access to more than 330 advertisements that appeared in the Southwestern Christian Advocate between November 1879 and December 1880. Digital reproductions of the Lost Friends ads are courtesy of Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University Libraries.
I performed a few searches for surnames of my client, Gesenia Sloan Pena to see if any of her family names were listed.  I only found two matches for the surname "Sloan."

Published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate on March 11, 1880.

Published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate on May 13, 1880.
After reviewing the description again, it became clear that the online database only includes one year of the advertisements that were published for over forty years by the Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper.  It is also clear that the contents of these ads are a treasure trove for African American family history researchers.  The first ad directs pastors to read the requests from their pulpits and to report any cases of reunions which were facilitated by means of the letters published in the Southwestern.  I would certainly like to read one of those reports.

The Lost Friends database can be searched by first name, last name or full name or they can be searched by state, county or city.  The advertisements also can be browsed.  Perusal of these advertisements tell many stories of lost family and friends.  The names of slave owners are listed along with names of parents, spouses, children and other family members.

Here is an article that I found with a search of Brenham, Washington County, Texas:

Published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate on November 13, 1879.
This next article shows how names that were used during slavery often changed after emancipation.  The Rev. B.M. Taylor used the surname of his slave owner, Louis Taylor.  Presumably his brothers, Sam, Peter and Jeff and sister Amy also went by Taylor.  However, their lost sister, Darkens Taylor changed her name to Maria Walker.

Published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate on March 25, 1880.
Perhaps if we contact the Historic New Orleans Collection (HNOC), we can encourage them to publish the rest of this wonderful Lost Friends collection in their database.  Also please contact HNOC if you would like a PDF copy of their Purchased Lives exhibit brochure.  The Historic New Orleans Collection can be reached at (504) 523-4662,

Since the letter from Rev. B.M. Taylor mentions Huntsville, Texas, it would seem an appropriate time to remind you that I will be making a presentation on Immigration and Emigration Records on July 31, from 8:30 to 12:30.  Here are the details for the event which runs on both Friday, July 31 and Saturday, August 1, 2015:

Frances Sprott Goforth Memorial Genealogy Weekend
Cost: Free
Location: Huntsville Public Library, 1219 13th Street, Huntsville, Texas 77340

The Weekend is hosted by Huntsville Public Library & Walker County Genealogical Society. The Huntsville Public Library is a FamilySearch Affiliate Library.

Pre-registration is encouraged, but not required. For more information go to or contact: Mary Kokot, Adult Services Coordinator at 936-291-5471.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

61 Bullets- The Death of Huey P. Long: Assassination or Friendly Fire?

One of the most tragic events in Louisiana history occurred here. On September 8, 1935, U.S. Sen. Huey P. Long was shot in the hall beside what is now the Speaker's Office. He died two days later as a result of his wounds.

We are spending a week in Louisiana in celebration of  our July birthdays, my wife, Robin's 60th birthday and my 61st.  We were in Baton Rouge yesterday and toured the Louisiana State Capitol.  We enjoy visiting state capitols having lived so many years in Sacramento and having so many family connections with state government.  The Louisiana State Capitol is the tallest in all of the 50 states. I was intrigued by the observation deck on the 27th floor as there are not many opportunities to get a bird's eye view of the terrain on the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana.

As we entered the Capitol there was a docent who encouraged us to look inside the House and the Senate chambers and to view the relics of the death of U.S. Senator Huey P. Long.

Mourners pass by the open casket of the late Sen. Huey P. Long.  Huey Pierce Long, Jr., nicknamed The Kingfish, served as the 40th Governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and as a member of the United States Senate from 1932 until gunshot wounds led to his death in 1935.  The documentary '61 Bullets' examines whether his death was due to an assassination or friendly fire from his body guards. (Oscar J. Valeton Sr. / The Times-Picayune)

We hurried to the observation deck to enjoy the view of Baton Rouge and were intrigued to learn that Senator Long had been buried on the south lawn and that a statue of him had been erected over his grave.

View from the south side of the Observation Deck showing the statue of Huey Long in the center of the lawn.

We continued our travels to New Orleans Saturday afternoon and have been enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes of this wonderful city.   We were headed to our hotel when a poster about an exhibit on slavery caught my eye.  We looked into the window of the Williams Research Collection at 410 Chartres St. and the staff opened the door and invited us to attend a free screening of a documentary about the death of Huey P. Long.  We looked at each other and smiled at our good fortune and were ushered into the documentary in progress.

The Williams Research Center at 410 Chartres Street is located in a former police station and criminal courthouse.  This was a fitting location for a screening of 61 Bullets: The Unsolved Mystery of Louisiana

I was struck by the interviews of the descendants of Sen. Long and Dr. Carl Weiss who is alleged to have been the assassin.  The following summary from IMDB was written by one of the filmmakers:

September 8, 1935. Bullets ricochet through the marble corridors of the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge. When the shooting finally stops and the panicked screaming subsides, two men have been fatally wounded. The first: populist United States Senator Huey P. Long, the most powerful man in Louisiana, and one of the most prominent political figures in 1930s America. The second: Dr. Carl Weiss, a respected local physician, and Long's presumed assailant. Weiss is riddled with sixty bullets, some of which have passed through his body and lodged in the alabaster walls. Blood soaks through his white linen suit and onto the ornate floor of the State Capitol. Huey Long, known as "The Kingfish," is rushed to the hospital, but pronounced dead thirty hours later. Louisiana politics - and the lives of the two men's families - will never be the same. Through the debate over how Huey Long was killed, 61 Bullets explores a piece of history that is as contentious as the man himself. We watch two families grasp for closure in the wake of a tragedy with ongoing political and personal ramifications. We engage those who know the most (Long experts) and those who care the most (the families of Long and Weiss) in a juxtaposition of competing narratives of the biggest political killing between McKinley and Kennedy. As the Weisses seek to rewrite history and clear their family name, the Longs strive to defend the legacy of their patriarch and preserve his iconic status.
- Written by David Modigliani

The screening was followed by a panel discussion including one of the filmmakers and two experts.
The discussion made it clear that this documentary does an excellent job of navigating a very difficult terrain of two families caught in a series of very tragic events.  History is left with an enduring mystery made more poignant from the family stories that are told through dozens of interviews.  Experts examine every angle of the limited evidence.  In the end we are left with another "Ancestor Puzzle."

For an additional touch of irony and coincidence we walked across the street and enjoyed an excellent meal at Kingfish Restaurant.  We watched as one of the panelists entered the restaurant and had her picture taken in front of the mural size picture of the "Kingfish", Huey P. Long.

For more information, visit the website for 61 Bullets:

Monday, July 6, 2015

Celebrating Citizenship in a New Century with Nonnu.

I began searching for Nonnu's citizenship papers in 1992, but finally found them in 2015.   Nonnu is the Sicilian name for grandfather.  My great grandfather, Antonino Cimino is known as "Nonnu" by the extended Cimino clan.  He was born in Carlentini in the Siracusa province of Sicily on December 24, 1878 according to the Carlentini birth records.

I had a very bad experience with the Immigration and Naturalization Service back in 1992.

I signed the application in February 1991 and INS finally found my application and check over a year later.  By that time the check was noncollectable.  I was so disgusted with the process that it took me over twenty years to try again.   All is forgiven now!  I am just happy to finally have Nonnu's citizenship papers.

When I examined his Certificate of Citizenship and compared it with the other papers in the file, I was struck by the fact that Nonnu had his own difficulties with the Naturalization Service and the District Court of Dakota County Nebraska.  Note the following Affidavit for Issuing New Naturalization Paper in Lieu of One Lost or Destroyed:

I recommend that you review the "facts" in naturalization papers with caution.  The following image of the Declaration of Intention has the wrong information for his date of birth and the name of the vessel.  As stated earlier he was born on 24 December 1878 and this document says 15 December 1876. The Declaration of Intention says he emigrated to the U.S.A. from Naples, Italy on the vessel "Barbados."  The actual vessel where his name appears on the passenger list is the S.S. Barbarossa.

It is also notable that "Nonnu" AKA Tony Cimino signed the Declaration of Intention with an X in 1923.  By the time he finally received his Certificate of Citizenship in 1930 he could sign his name.

The first paper in the process was the Petition for Naturalization.  This 1921 document is packed with information but it also has a few inaccuracies with the birth dates that are not obscured.  These mistakes in the facts may be due to Nonnu's fuzzy memories or to a communication breakdown with the Dakota County court clerk in South Sioux City, Nebraska.  Suffice it to say that further documentation is required to ascertain the "true facts."

The picture of Nonnu on the Certificate of Citizenship was an unexpected bonus.  The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service now has an online application process that appears to have improved the process tremendously.  Check out the USCIS Genealogy page for more information:


Friday, July 31, 2015 — 8:30 AM to Noon

Topic: Immigration and Emigration Records
Frances Sprott Goforth Memorial Genealogy Weekend
Cost: Free
Location: Huntsville Public Library, 1219 13th Street, Huntsville, Texas 77340

The Weekend is hosted by Huntsville Public Library & Walker County Genealogical Society. The Huntsville Public Library is a FamilySearch Affiliate Library.

Pre-registration is encouraged, but not required. For more information go to or contact: Mary Kokot, Adult Services Coordinator at 936-291-5471.